Compiled by NMA Foundation Director James C. Walker and NMA Communications Director Shelia Dunn
The ATE Racket Report is a weekly feature of the NMA blog. We want to bring the issues of automated traffic enforcement to our supporters in a more coherent up-to-date fashion.
This Week Thumbs UP…
Oakland, California’s MacArthur BART station accidentally recorded tens of thousands of license plates that were sent to ICE for a period from at least January through August 2017. In November, the police department figured out that the Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs) were recording, then turned off and uninstalled them. This revelation came out the day before the BART Board of Directors approved new rules governing the use of surveillance technology on trains and in stations. These guidelines were two years in the making. The new ordinance requires BART to hold both a public discussion and board approval before the purchase or even the seeking of funding for any new surveillance equipment. How the ALPRs were turned on in the first place is still under investigation.
Wait and See…
A Colorado Springs woman is fighting a red-light camera ticket she received from the nearby city of Sheridan. Not only does she claim she was at home during the time of the ticket, the photo indicates a man was driving the car with a different license plate number. The car in the photo also has a handicapped sticker which hers does not. The woman drives a Honda while the ticket said the car was a 2002 VW and the photo actually indicates the car is a Buick! When she told the police about the discrepancies, they told her they could do nothing about it and she should just pay the ticket. Unbelievable!
Texas Red-Light Cameras: The Saga Continues…Governor Abbott has declared that he will campaign on pushing a red-light camera ban during the next legislative session. El Paso responded with their own city report on RLCs and an anti-camera activist in Amarillo posted this editorial. The Texas Monitor said that RLCs may be close to Winking out in Texas while the Lubbock and Beaumont papers had a different viewpoint. Houston Public Media also presented a report on how area communities are responding to the proposed ban.
Bad News—Thumbs Down….
The city of Winter Park, Florida has purchased ALPRs to enforce downtown parking restrictions. Drivers are expected to relocate their cars to a new parking spot at least 500 feet away before their time expires to avoid a $25 parking ticket. Parking officers will begin issuing warning citations on October 1st.
NMA’s City/State Lists of RLCs and Speed Cameras
The NMA has compiled a list of which states and cities are using red-light and speed cameras. This may not be a complete list and please send any additions or subtractions to the email@example.com for updating the list.
Jim Walker’s ATE Commentary of the Week
We hope there is enough push to get a red-light camera ban in Texas this year.
Some time ago, our Blog had a list of 10 reasons we have developed to say why cities should not adopt red-light cameras, or end existing programs. When we know about possible new programs or renewals, I often look up the list of officials and send them a personalized set of reasons – with appropriate modifications for their city. I try to find emails for all the main elected officials plus the City Clerk, Police Chief, Chamber of Commerce contact, City Manager, and any others that might be affected.
Advocacy Letter/Email of the Week
Here is one my latest emails to officials in Menlo Park, California. I added a Reason #11 about Redflex because that is the existing contractor. And under Reason #4 I referenced the recent Case Western Reserve University study. We encourage you to advocate for a ban on red-light cameras (or speed cameras or other automated traffic devise) to your elected city officials by writing emails to the entire bunch.
To the Honorable Menlo Park Officials:
There are many reasons to end a red-light camera contract, here are some of the most important ones.
Reason #1: Residents and Visitors to your Fair City despise the program
A high majority of your city’s residents and visitors absolutely despise the program. Most will see it as a cash grab, not a safety program. At least sixteen states ban automated ticketing due to public opposition and some others don’t have programs because the legislature never authorized them. Some of your visitors that get a high percentage of the tickets simply never return to risk another ticket.
Reason #2: Red-light Camera Programs would likely lose in a Public Vote
Red-light and/or speed cameras have lost 36 of 40 public votes so far. Voters reject red-light and/or speed cameras 90% of the time, and votes are a far more accurate view of constituents’ true positions than polls.
Reason #3: Red-Light Cameras are usually a Policing for Profit Scheme
The Public Information Research Group (PIRG) published a major report in 2011 detailing how and why red-light cameras are often abused for profits, not safety. Involving for-profit ticket camera companies in any part of traffic enforcement virtually guarantees that the real focus will be profits, not safety – because profits are the only real motive of the for-profit camera companies.
Reason #4: Many times, the Presence of Red-Light Cameras will increase crash rates and they do not improve safety
It doesn’t happen at every intersection, but red-light cameras often increase total crash rates at camera intersections. Higher crash rates cannot be considered an acceptable result of any safety program. Unbiased sources of data analyses are always the best, not data or analyses from any group in the revenue stream from red-light cameras.
A large study by Case Western Reserve University showed no safety benefits from red-light cameras.
A statewide report was released in Florida in January 2017 stating that crashes go up at red-light camera intersections. Eleven months before, Tampa released a city-wide audit, which indicated that 19 of the 22 RLC intersections had more accidents with a total increase of 39 percent.
In a 2013 report from Philadelphia, ten years of accident data showed that there was a 27 percent increase in the number of collisions involving an injury at red-light cameras intersections. Angle collisions did not decrease as promised by the camera company.
Reason #5: For increased Safety, Lengthen Yellow Light Timings
If the yellow traffic light intervals are set long enough for the actual perception/reaction times and actual approach speeds of at least 85% of the drivers, the violation rates will likely be too low to justify cameras for either safety or financial reasons.
California (and Virginia) introduced rules that required longer yellow intervals at most intersections and these rules reduced through movement violations significantly. That said, a further increase in yellow intervals of even another half second (0.5 seconds) is likely to reduce the rates even more on a permanent basis. The final rate may be too low to justify having the cameras at all.
The NMA website has a number of articles and studies concerning yellow light timings. Particularly note the compendium of information by Safer Streets L.A. that shows the reduced violation rates with longer yellow intervals are permanent, not temporary as falsely claimed by the for-profit camera companies.
Reason #6: Mostly Safe Drivers are Fined for Slow Rolling Right on Red Turns
Most cities with red-light cameras also use them to fine almost entirely safe drivers making slow rolling right on red turns. Federal research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a Report to Congress shows that right on red turns (The research included turns with or without a full stop.) are involved in only six one-hundredths of one percent (0.06% or 0.0006) of crashes with injuries or fatalities. Almost every slow rolling right on red camera ticket goes to a safe driver who endangered no one.
Reason #7: Vast Majority of Drivers Receive Tickets for less than one second into the Red
A disconnect exists in the sales presentation claims by the for-profit camera companies and the videos they put out. The sales premise of stopping the dangerous crashes is simply false. Those crashes and near misses occur with violations after the lights have been red for several seconds, often five to nine seconds into the red is the most dangerous interval. Those drivers never recognized the lights were red because the drivers were heavily distracted by something, DUI, medically impaired, under the influence of legal or illegal drugs, severely fatigued, etc. – or even fleeing police. Sending those drivers bills in the mail weeks later does not stop those terrible crashes because the drivers never recognized the lights were already red until too late.
The vast majority of camera tickets will go to safe drivers for harmless violations of less than one second into the red. Those drivers clear the intersections during the all-red phase plus the short start up delay before the cross traffic moves into the intersections when they get green lights. Their crash risks for those inadvertent split-second violations often caused by too-short yellows are zero – because the cross traffic is not yet in the intersection.
The for-profit camera companies depend upon ticketing mostly safe drivers for harmless technical fouls and then splitting the profits with their city business partners. This financial conflict of interest is one reason some states make the cameras illegal.
Reason #8: RLCs are Regressive for Lower Income Drivers
Red-light camera fines are very regressive for lower income citizens. The fines may be seen as just an annoying “road tax” to a middle-class executive, but can be punishingly large to service workers in lower wage jobs with families to try to house, feed and clothe. Some of these low-income workers will be unable to pay the fines and may then be subject to collection efforts, suspended vehicle registrations or driver’s licenses, or other sanctions. The practical results for many poor people may be a lot like putting them in debtor prisons, unable to legally drive to work.
This is particularly true in California where the fines of about $500 are financially crippling for lower income people.
Reason #9: The Local Economy Will Suffer
Ticket cameras do serious economic damage to your businesses, their employees and ultimately hurt your tax base. The Federal Reserve calculates the “Velocity of Money” at about six times per year, meaning $100 spent on January 1st will circulate though the year to produce about $600 in total sales of goods and services by December 31st. For a partial example, a red-light camera leasing for $4,000/month x 12 months x 6 generates about $288,000 in economic turnover in a year – essentially none of which is in the area of the camera city.
Menlo Park should calculate the total dollars it will send in a year to Redflex and to other governments for the surcharges. Multiply that total by six to estimate the total sales of goods and services that will occur away from the Menlo Park economic area. It would be far better to keep much of that economic activity in your area to benefit your businesses and their employees, rather than improving the economies of Arizona & Australia plus the areas favored by Sacramento bureaucrats.
Reason #10: RLC Programs are on the Downslide Nationwide
Red-light camera programs are decreasing nationwide and starting one now in your city would put you on the wrong side of the decreasing numbers of red-light camera programs. The NMA believes the current quoted number of 421 programs from the IIHS is high, because some programs have been closed and some of listings are duplicates under the same government authority. We are working on a list to ask the IIHS to revise their count to be more accurate.
A five year “pilot program” in New Jersey was shut down after high public opposition and without data to show real safety results.
Eighty California cities were reported to have dropped red-light cameras, or prohibited them before any were installed. There are now only 29 active programs in California in a state that once had over 100. Cathedral City was the latest CA community to end the use of cameras.
Kingman, Arizona just decided not to restart a closed red-light camera program. There are now only five active ticket camera programs in the state of Arizona, the state that is home to both Redflex and ATS.
Reason #11: There are now five guilty pleas or verdicts in federal Redflex-related cases for fraud, bribery or extortion
Regardless of claims to have “cleaned house”, we believe no government should continue to do business with a company that has that level of felonious behavior in their history.
Your residents, your visitors and your business community would be very grateful if Menlo Park ended its red-light camera program to become the 81st California community to end or ban the cameras, leaving only 28 active programs in a state that once had 103 programs.
James C. Walker
Life Member, National Motorists Association
Board Member and Executive Director, National Motorists Association Foundation